Wikipedia:Free speech

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The "right to free speech" has been cited on Wikipedia in response to sanctions against editors such as blocks and bans, as well as speedy deletions and editing restrictions imposed by administrators or the Arbitration Committee. Although the Wikimedia Foundation is headquartered (and some Wikipedia servers are located) in the United States, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution does not limit its power to exercise editorial discretion. The First Amendment forbids government censorship of expression; it does not prevent a public charity such as the Wikimedia Foundation from deciding for itself what words and images will be presented on its websites, and how.[1]

In sum, in the United States you have the legal right to speak your mind (with certain narrow exclusions) on a street corner, at a town council meeting, or in a letter to your elected representatives. But you have no "right" to express yourself at will in someone else's home, to demand that a private newspaper publish your thoughts, or to insist that Wikipedia carry what you write‍—‌even if it's "The Truth".

There are some cases in which Wikipedia's editorial discretion is limited by the law, as when court decisions define a boundary between copyright violations and fair use. Editors may argue that Wikipedia's freedom of speech is violated when Wikipedia is forced to comply with these laws, but the appropriate venue for lodging these complaints is the political process.

What Wikipedia is not[edit]

Wikipedia is dedicated to expanding access to the sum of human knowledge. Wikipedia is not censored, but it does not provide a platform for all forms of human expression. Wikipedia is not a soapbox, not an anarchy, and not a personal blog or webhost.

Text of the First Amendment[edit]

The United States Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution

The text of the First Amendment states that:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The most relevant clause of that Amendment to the matter at hand is "Congress shall make no law." Wikipedia is a private website, hosted by the privately incorporated Wikimedia Foundation and governed solely by the Board of Trustees of that Foundation. Wikipedia, and the Wikimedia Foundation, is free to establish its own policies and practices regarding who may edit here, and is not subject to regulation by the governments of the United States or the States of Florida and California in this respect. As a private website, Wikipedia has the legal right to block, ban, or otherwise restrict any individual from editing its pages, or accessing its content, with or even without reason. In practice, the power to block an editor is delegated to the administrators, chosen by the community.

This is not to say that the Wikimedia Foundation intends to extensively exercise that legal right, if it can be avoided. Wikipedia welcomes all constructive contributors, and is dedicated to assuming good faith with those here to contribute constructively and assist in helping expand access to the sum of human knowledge.

Wikipedia policies[edit]

There are policies, like the blocking policy and the arbitration policy, that have been adopted by the Wikipedia community to govern matters related to restricting user privileges, but these policies are subject to change. These policies also cannot, do not, and must not be construed by anyone as establishing any right or expectation that is legally enforceable, as the Wikimedia Foundation reserves the legal right to change them at any time for any reason whatsoever, whether with consensus, or without consensus, so as to further its mission, to prevent the Foundation or its projects from being brought into disrepute – or for any reason it sees fit – or even for the reason that it "feels like it".

Summary[edit]

In short, editing Wikipedia is a privilege granted to you by the permission of the Wikimedia Foundation, and can be revoked at any time for whatever reason that organization sees fit to do so. Your only legal rights on Wikipedia are:

  • your right to fork (create another encyclopaedia independent of the Wikimedia Foundation)
  • your right to leave (stop editing)
  • your copyright to your contributions to Wikipedia (which are also automatically released under one or several liberal licenses, which require that anyone who uses your work give you credit for it).

This being said, we're not trying to be jerks. Nor do we plan on being jerks. We do hope that you stay, and help us to build a better Wikipedia. There's lots of work to be done, and everyone who's willing to contribute constructively is needed. Including you.

Please note[edit]

Please note: Nothing on Wikipedia.org or of any project of Wikimedia Foundation Inc., should be construed as an attempt to offer or render a legal opinion or otherwise engage in the practice of law. Please see Wikipedia:Legal disclaimer.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

External links[edit]

  • "Free Speech" xkcd webcomic, making the same point as this essay in six panels. Also consider the mouseover text.